Why Honda India lost its plot

November 7, 2021

Honda, from a common man to an enthusiast everybody at some point of time to another had a dream of owning a car with a capital H logo on its nose.

In India especially even before liberalisation the wealthy people privately imported Hondas, such was the appeal. So when Honda actually entered India with a JV with Siel to form Honda Siel Cars India Ltd. and established a plant at Greater Noida everybody was very excited about the same.

Their first product when they started their Indian inning  was the City, a sporty sedan for an affluent man. The sleek and sporty profile of the first generation fired up the Indian imagination and demand for a reliable Honda hardware. Fast forward to 2nd and 3rd generations of the City saw it go into a more practical role but one thing was sure the appeal and value of the Honda badge only increased.

Their second product for India was the 8th gen Civic which sat above City and was for those who desired an even more sorted product than City. Even though priced very high it was an instant success as many preferred it due to its gorgeous looks, reliable hardware and fun to drive characteristics thus making Honda as a maker of Fun to Drive easy to maintain car maker

Their next products were the Accord luxury sedan and the CRV luxury SUV, both of them were priced eye-wateringly high and came only with petrol engines also their automatic transmission were gas guzzlers which ensured the fact that they were out of reach of common people and lesser mortals, but it was such a success back in the day. Wealthy individuals, Bollywood stars everybody preferred them over anything, even above Mercedes! 

The competition for Honda cars did come, some notable mentions are the Mitsubishi Lancer, Opel Astra, Ford Ikon, Hyundai Accent for City; Ford Mondeo, Opel Vectra, Škoda Superb for the Accord; Hyundai Tucson CRDi 1st gen for the CRV but none of them had the appeal of Honda cars due to either reliablity and maintenance issues or poor brand image and weird designs thus not being able to even come close to mighty Honda let alone defeating them.

Things took a drastic turn from the end of the first decade of ‘00s. Honda Siel Cars now became Honda Cars India Ltd. which took an extremely opposite approach. They discontinued their premium cars which was Honda’s forte launched poorly built, shoddy cheap products with glaring cost cutting just to gain market share which was the kick starter of demise of Honda. People outrightly rejected them since they didn’t even come close the people’s expectations from Honda let alone their own good cars. They faced massive losses and literally shattered into pieces and now just somehow trying to survive in the market.

The full advantage of this situation was utilised by the Koreans, slowly but steadily they perfected their designs and engineering skills and started making state of the art machines which were more reliable than Europeans thereby slowly emerging as a Premium Brand for Indian families, Indians love them due to their stylish appearance, reliable and low maintenance and what everything Honda was once loved for apart from Fun to Drive characteristic but that was okay for most Indians thus emerging as a Giant.

I can see Honda Cars India future to worsen even further. I think the top management of Honda Global has just lost faith on its Indian arm and unwilling to pump any fresh investment and left to survive on its own. The Indian arm seriously lacks funds now which is why they sold their Greater Noida facilities, involving in cheap cost cutting, not bringing new engines and technology and flogging their aging and boring lineup of cars with useless facelifts. I don’t see any way forward for Honda India TBH. 

Moral of the story

Don’t ever become overconfident and treat your customers as fools; secondly don’t underestimate your rivals irrespective of how much small they are and last but not the least do something new everyday not just lay back on your old glory.

Written by: Aryaan (Our Youtube Subscriber)

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Sole purpose of this is to try providing readers with factual information where other readers have shared their ownership experiences that may help readers for their car buying decision.

About the author, Sunderdeep Singh

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  • Absolutely well said Aryaan. Current Honda cars absolutely deserve 0 sales TBH. I have traveled in many Hondas (including 1st generation City).

    I had a Ford Ikon 2004 before and for it’s replacement, I had evaluated the 4th gen City i-VTEC. I sat in it and I was disappointed. The seats were underwhelming in front of my Ikon, the City’s fit and finish were crap and in fact worse than Ikon i.e exposed screws, massive panel gaps, cheap materials and what not. Plus the doors were extremely light too. It’s driving dynamics were absolutely rubbish. The tires were shared with a WagonR. Plus the 4th gen City has a ton of quality issues like parts falling, switches issues and what not which we’re reported in Teambhp. It’s reliability took a massive downturn.

    The 1st gen City on the other hand, was quite different. It’s fit and finish were great at that time, interior quality was amazing in it’s segment plus it’s 1.5 VTEC was a BOMB and it felt like a GO-KART in terms of driving experience. This shows what Honda is now and was back in the 1990s. The compromises of the 4th gen City was the biggest reason why I bought the Rapid Onyx 1.5 TDI even though I was a die-hard VTEC fan.

    The Rapid definitely feels like 10 segments above the City 4th gen TBH i.e quality, finish and everything.

    But what affected Honda the most was that the reliability of it’s cars (more so the Indian ones) took a massive downturn. The initial models of the 2nd gen Amaze were extremely problematic and were as unreliable as Tatas. Although se are sorted. Now Honda took the least spot in JD power reliability record. Plus their IDTEC engines were totally unreliable.

    Now their sales are decreased to next level such that even the Laggard Renault started outselling Honda now. If Honda India continues like this then even Skoda might outsell it once they launch the Kodiaq BS6 and the Slavia and considering the Kushaq made it gain 3K sales per month.

    But the real reason which made Honda India lose the plot is their braindead strategies. Back in the 1990s they used to give a manual with their legendary VTEC motor, 1.5 NA and 1.3 NA with 4 speed auto option with 1.3. They also offered a manual with the VTEC engines of their Civic, CRV and even their flagship Accord too. But now their strategy is CRAP. They did a massive blunder in the CRV by giving it a puny 1.6L diesel producing just 120 hp yet priced at par with the Endeavor 3.2. LOL. Even a 15 lakh rupee Creta produced 130 ps back in 2018. Even the Superb and the Kodiaq looked so VFM. Plus the petrol CRV had a boring CVT gearbox. The Civic was supposed to be an affordable enthusiasts machine. But they done a huge blunder with the Indian one by launching the 1.8 iVTEC with a boring CVT thus spoiling its performance to a huge level. They also tested the HRV for 2 years but at the end canceled the plans. Now they have discontinued the CRV and the Civic. Now the only good launch can be their upcoming compact SUV rumored for India.

    More than the products, the brain stroke strategies caused Honda India’s poor market performance. If it continues like this then Honda will leave the Indian market after Ford. Honda India – Where the HECK is the Honda of 2000s? Where is your legendary reliability standards? Where is your legendary dynamics? Where is your legendary quality?

    • I’m delighted by reading your opinions and highly respect it, the Japanese giant’s downfall in India was a conglomeration of poor product planning strategy, extremely lazy execution and the subpar quality of the product itself which was a far cry than the Honda of 00s.

      Let’s take the case of their failed attempt of making a re-entry into the premium space with the Civic,C-RV and Accord. As a product in isolation they were extremely good but what made them an instant failure was the lack of Fun to drive element Honda was known and loved for back in the day. Let’s take up the Civic, it’s good they brought the 1.6
      i-DTEC but coupling a 9speed ZF AT found in CRV wouldn’t add even more practicality as some people love Diesel AT combo. Also it’s fine to bring the 1.8 VTEC but if they added a manual gearbox wouldn’t it have come cheaper and and had a wider appeal among enthusiasts and lastly if they were hell bent on a CVT couldn’t have they brought the 1.5VTEC turbo found in their global portfolio. I’m damn sure if they did this they would have found a fair number of takers.

      In the case of CRV it’s good they brought a i-DTEC that too with an excellent ZF 9speed shift by wire AT but only 120BHP?? that too at a sky high 40L?! At the least they could have plonked in a twin-scroll turbocharger with e-VGT which makes ~160BHP which was easily available in their global market. Now regarding the petrol version why only the 2.0L VTEC where is that 2.4VTEC? You get the drift?

      Third case the Accord the car which used to be the Bread and Butter for Honda back in the day, they relaunched it here as a Hybrid Only CBU model at an eye-watering price of ~45L when cars like Superb and Passat were retailing for much less. It’s ok that they brought a hybrid but where is the regular 2.4 VTEC model and where is the V6 model for performance seeking audience?. ( Do you know back in the day Honda was such advanced that they had the Active Cylinder Deactivation tech for the V6 Accord which is offered by VAG now!).
      Also what’s surprising is the fact that these cars are globally best selling models but Honda India knew how to make sure not to sell these cars else why the hell any automotive giant will do these catastrophic mistakes?

      Now that they have killed off their premium range products they made sure how to ruin their prestigious brand value created in so many years by introducing absolute junks. I mean what the hell was the first gen Amaze, tin can like build which became rust boxes after a couple of years, flimsy materials which break off at slightest of pressure, cabin full of rattles and devoid of any sort of insulation materials and the Diesel engine which was lifted straight from a tractor. Also subpar safety totally unexpected and unacceptable by a giant like Honda. Then their 4th gen City which like you mentioned had innumerable issues, their QC went for a toss and felt more like Suzuki than Honda. This completely ruined their leftover premium image which is why like I mentioned they have reduced to pieces now and somehow trying to cling in the market. Like I mentioned I predict their future to worsen further.

      On a wider aspect I don’t know why all the automotive giants are treating Indians as 3rd class citizens and dishing out such compromised products. Toyota,Ford, General Motors, VAG all recently gave us compromised products. Why they always think that we don’t pay for quality, don’t they remember that we absolutely loved the Chevrolet Cruze, Honda’s 8th gen Civic, VW Jetta, VW Polo 1.6TDi, Toyota Corolla Altis etc only because they were high quality products. We just want those products just updated with modern features, new age styling, advanced engine and transmission options and we are ready to pay the premium, point in case the Jeep Compass. Fiat never made a mark among Indians but with the new Compass even though very expensive is being lapped up by the Indians even though it has some flaws like gruff engine, lazy gearbox and compact size for its price. It should be an clear indication that we Indians do prefer quality and ready to pay for it. I just want to see Honda with their updated range (just like what TaMo did) and bring back their old strengths and be like what they were in their heydays. In the same tempo, I also wish VAG takes note and revamp their 2.0 strategy and don’t compromise their quality and deny their brand value.

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